Friday, October 09, 2009

Review -- Family Business

Title: Family Business
Genre: Fiction/Thriller/Horror -- Hardcore
Price: $ 16.95
Publisher: Lulu
Pages: 268
Point of Sale: Lulu
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Erika’s husband doesn’t want to have kids -- yet. He is in the prime of his life, and he wants to enjoy himself, and I do mean ENJOY himself. But Erika, prima Donna trophy wife that she is, wants what she wants, and if she can’t have it, well, then she wants a puppy. Steven, the husband, doesn’t want a puppy either, but Erika manipulates men, not the other way around, so going behind his back doesn’t seem like a big deal. Subsequent to their argument, she does the obligatory pet store romp, then she calls the shelters, but none of them have exactly what she wants: a Yorkie female, a puppy that she can dress up in ribbons, pamper, and paint its toenails. One she can treat like her little girl, her baby. After having crossed a picket line at the pet store only to find no Yorkies and after having to listen to some preachy shelter worker, Erika, frustrated that she can’t get the designer accessory she wants, starts checking the classified ads. She finds an ad that looks promising and then decides to go off to buy a puppy at some shanty shack puppy mill off a dirt road in Missouri, despite her friend’s warnings. Like most people in this world, Erika has no clue when it comes to the unspoken grotesqueries of the Pet Trade. Anyway, she winds up at a shitty ole deliverance type back-wooded farmhouse where she finds more than a cute little puppy. She finds Levi, his son Jake, and the retard Bubba with no one around to hear her scream. Yes, of course there is a “Bubba.” How could there not be?

At this point of the story, we leave Erika in a cage for the moment and move on to her husband Steven, who at the start of chapter four is giving the high hard one to one of the many babes he has collected over the years to satisfy his need for enjoyment. He is your typical: I am too young and wanna have fun while I can misogynistic asshole. So far by this point, we have the making of a pretty standard mainstream psychological crime thriller. A little Kiss the Girls, with a dash of Deliverance, a touch of The Hills Have Eyes, and a little bit of the scary backwoods family a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre or House of a 1000 Corpses. “A good breeder is worth a lot.”

Mr. Williams likes to address the dark side of humanity and has a penchant for taking on some very serious and disturbing social and moral issues in his fiction, as all good horror writers do. In Back in Black, which I reviewed here several months ago, the story dealt with racism in the south and reparation in the form of revenge. There was a slight supernatural bent to that story, but the message was clear, as it is in Family Business. However, in this story, the hardcore horror is all human and all too close to the truth. This story doesn’t lightly touch on anything, and it doesn’t just slap you in the face, either: It rams the truth down your throat until you gag. The author’s approach is blunt, maybe too blunt for some readers, but when dealing with subject matter like this, blunt and horrific is the only approach one can take, and even though the “How would you like it?” allusion lies at the heart of the story, it manages to drive home its point without becoming intrusive or preachy. I haven’t been this moved since reading American Psycho. The stylistic approach is very similar: Unrelenting and Unabashed.

On a technical note, which reduced the review rating: The narrative POV needs quite a bit of work. Now, there is nothing wrong with shifting POVs -- at least that's what all my college textbooks say -- providing the transitions are smooth and the demarcation lines well defined. In this story, however, the shifting from various close third person narratives to an omniscient narrative and back again is so erratic at times that it can be a little jarring, and the inappropriate use of Italics only complicates this issue further. Italics used for internal monologue is a tricky business, and if not handled skillfully, the reader can get rattled and even downright confused. I often recommend a very spare use of italics, and if the author finds it necessary to use them, they should make sure to use a close third person narrative during the scene, and the narrative should be restricted to one character’s POV for the entire scene. There was a bit of head hopping in this story that made it difficult to discern at times which character was thinking and speaking. Italics stand alone: They should not be in quotes, and they should not be followed by thought tags. Often novice writers struggle with the use if italics -- I did myself for a time -- but with practice and attention to POV, we find that italicized thoughts are rarely necessary. Other issues include: a few misused words, some typos, some funky dialog tags, and some awkward sentence structure issues, but nothing that was so serious that if affected my enjoyment of the story. This story just sucks you in from chapter one and holds you in a death grip for the remainder. I found only one “yea right!” moment: Where did a wretch like Levi get clomid???? Sure, he could have taken his wife’s, but after 20 years, she wouldn’t have a supply left and no doctor would be refilling a twenty year old prescription for fertility drugs to a lady in her fifties, unless, the doc was in on it as well, but that was never addressed. Aside from those minor issues, Mr. Williams has really improved his technique since my reading of Back in Black. Instead of the backstory info-dump all in the middle of the book as it was in that piece, Mr. Williams very adeptly integrated it throughout the story this time, and the over the top hick diction was reduced greatly. We get just enough for it to feel authentic, not irritating.

Some readers might take issue with the stereotyping and clichés. I didn’t find the crazed southern hillbilly puppy mill scenario, or the hillbilly hooker at the bait shop, or the hillbilly meth lab, or even the Of Mice and Men mentally challenged brother who tends to squeeze things to death clichés bothersome at all, and Steven, Erika’s husband, is a typical asshole. Precedent has been set, what can you do? That’s what stereotypes and a clichés are after all. But, the “animals as a commodity” mentality doesn’t discriminate. Why not visit the Amish Country up here in Pennsylvania. Animal cruelty happens all over the country, all over the world, in the most unexpected places by the most unexpected people sometimes: Michael Vick comes to mind. Clichés noted, this lack of concern for life is not restricted to the low income undereducated lifestyle, but for this story, it worked. Life at Levi’s Missouri farm, all life for that matter, is pretty much meaningless, a commodity, nothing more, and that is what we experience in this book. True human horror. This story is not for the squeamish. We have graphic dog fighting scenes, graphic animal abuse scenes, murder, rape, and torture, but while horror like this is very disturbing to read, the point of it definitely doesn’t go unnoticed. Mr. Williams stays on point throughout the entire story. This is humanity at its darkest. This is truth as much as we would prefer to ignore it. Mr. Williams seems to like to take on the darker issues in his fiction, and he does it with ferocity. Mr. Williams does not restrain the rage. It hits the page full force, so this book would be for mature readers, and even then, discretion is advised.

But what I really liked was the subversive irony. The entire plotline for Family Business arose from the desperate desire to have a child, both Erika’s and Martha’s, the hillbilly mom. Desperation can and does make people do things no sane person would consider. We also have the Madonna/Whore juxtaposition playing out with Erika and Bobby Jean, the seventeen year old bait shop hooker and niece to the hillbilly family. A reader might also feel slightly conflicted about Erika. We, at one turn, are horrified by what is happening to her, and at another turn we might feel a bit of just deserts: Here we have the beautiful blond who knows she is beautiful, who admittedly manipulated many a man in her day, now has to do it to save her own life. The blond bombshell master manipulator with the perfect body, who can’t even control her philandering husband, who is utterly unaware that her marriage is a farce. The beautiful blond who wanted nothing more than a baby, whose husband rebuked the idea, will now end up with a litter of her own. Then there is Bobby Jean, upon discovering the Family Business, she feels no sense of remorse watching others like herself be exploited. Her justification is deep-seated: “Her uncle was pretty smart: It made a lot of sense to use someone else’s body to make money.”

All I can say is that this book is a page turner with enough twists and turns to keep the reader on the edge of their seat until the very end. The intensity level is consistent throughout, and the plotting is flawless, down to the last word. Each character is well actualized on the page, and while we may not agree with the motivations or the decisions made, and we might be equally repulsed by the justifications and the lack of morality, we can understand them on some base level, enough to find sympathy in the oddest moments. No one in this book is a saint, that’s for sure, and in the end, I got exactly what I was wanted. I feared from the start that Mr. Williams would go for the fluffy happy ending in order to justify the gore, but he didn’t, and this reader was thankful for that. The story needed to end exactly as it did: bittersweet with a side of biting irony. In one scene towards the end, I actually fell to tears. Erika’s character arc was so well done that this reader was torn in so many different directions. One moment I was shocked and appalled by her arrogance and narcissism, and the next, I was horrified and repulsed as I watched her move from defiance to acquiescence, watched her teeter on the brink of sanity. Eventually, I found myself sobbing with pity for her soul as her selfishness came full circle with a grand epiphany. Yup, this book has got it all. If you like hardcore, and I mean Hardcore with a capital “H” horror with purpose, and are able to find the value in movies like Hostel and can appreciate the tenor of stories like American Psycho, then you will absolutely love this book.

I will be giving a copy of this book away for our October 31st Halloween edition of our Free Book Friday. Stay tuned .


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Disclaimer: This book was reviewed from PDF. ARC provided for giveaway only. Non-affiliate sales link provided by the author.


Marilyn said...

Sounds like a fantastic book. I hope the author gets the recognition he deserves.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Oh it's a nail biter of a story. Stay tuned for the giveaway at the end of the month.